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A Royal Tradition: The Order of Mithras celebrates 90 years with the crowning of its court and at a party fit for its queen at Mary Mahoney's Old French House.

The city of Biloxi boasts a rich history with an unfettered support of the arts and cultural heritage. It is home to Mary Mahoney's Old French House, the most quaint and well-known fine dining establishment on the Gulf Coast. The Old French House was built in 1737, predating American independence by more than three decades. Considerable efforts have been expended to preserve the landmark's original character and charm since Mary Mahoney and her family acquired it in 1962. It is, therefore, the perfect setting for the annual Mithras Mardi Gras Queen's Luncheon, an integral part of the Coast's cultural heritage. The event, which celebrated its 90th year on February 23, 2017, honors the current and past queens of the Order of Mithras Mardi Gras Carnival Association's masked balls. The Order of Mithras was organized in Biloxi in 1924 and is the oldest among hundreds of men's carnival organizations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mithras has held masked balls each year since its inception, with the exception of the years 1943-1945 (during World War II) and 2006 (after Hurricane Katrina).

Time is not the only factor that distinguishes the Mithras Masked Ball and Queen's Luncheon from other functions. The ball possesses an unrivaled sense of elegance and excitement based on its unique format for selecting the king, queen, and court. Karla Steckler Tye, who was queen in 2015 and hosted the 2016 luncheon, explains that unlike many Mardi Gras celebrations, the Mithras Masked Ball places less emphasis on an elaborate "show," focusing instead on tradition. The selection process is cloaked in secrecy, as the members of the court, including the king and queen, remain unaware of their selection until the night of the event. The captain discretely taps the members of the court a mere hour before the processional, and they retreat to a back room. During the tableau, the king and captain proceed together to retrieve the queen from the audience, who learns of her coronation at the same time as the other guests.

It is an honor to be chosen as queen, as she is generally someone with a special relationship with the captain. Captain Walt Denton, a lifelong family friend, selected Tye as queen. Ron Peresich, another family friend, was chosen as king the same year. Her father and grandfather were members of the Order of Mithras, making it an even more significant honor for Tye to serve as queen.

The Mithras Queen's Luncheon is held in honor of the current queen and is hosted by the previous year's queen at the end of her reign. Karla Steckler Tye hosted the luncheon in honor of 2016 queen, Lori Pontius. As the hostess, Tye was responsible for the decorations, which captured the spirit of the masked ball in their simple elegance. Subtle yet regal gold and champagne hues set the tone of the luncheon, from the invitations to the Mardi Gras masks adorning the tables. Also on display was a scrapbook chronicling past years' queens and luncheons. Tulips, hydrangeas, and lavender stock displayed in a stunning crown arrangement provided the perfect finishing touch. The queens feasted on delicious fare from Mary Mahoney's exquisite luncheon menu, including George salad, a selection among prime rib au jus, shrimp and crab au gratin, and fresh jumbo fried shrimp, topped off with the restaurant's renowned bread pudding.

During the luncheon, the only man "allowed" to be present is the captain, who presents the ritual toast to the honoree, after which he is politely ushered out. After his departure, a timehonored tradition of royal fellowship continues, as each queen shares something special, such as a personal memory, from her reign. It is in these anecdotes that the real bond of the queens of the Order of Mithras is formed, as commonality is discovered among women from different generations, families, and walks of life. A group photograph taken at the luncheon memorializes the bond among their majesties, perfectly capturing their caring friendships.

As Tye fondly recalls, "Mardi Gras is a unique tradition that bonds our coastal communities. Being selected as queen of the Order of Mithras is an honor based on special, meaningful friendships." And while the queen only reigns for one year, the bond remains for a lifetime. "As queen, you join an eclectic group of ladies, all who meet annually at the queen's luncheon to share stories of friendships--some stretching back as far as six decades. The Order of Mithras represents a tapestry of past lives, and the ability to be a thread in that fabric, to gather for a day to share stories with queens representing the living history of Mardi Gras on the Mississippi Coast, is an amazing privilege," she says. The 90th year celebration of the Order of Mithras Queen's Luncheon was indeed a royal affair, continuing a beloved tradition and creating memories of friendship and fondness which will live on for years to come.

Caption: ABOVE: Laurie Dick was crowned 2017 queen. OPPOSITE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Karla Tye hosted the 2016 Queen's Luncheon and decorated with traditional Mardi Gras masks. She enlisted the help of Alexis Williams with Shindig to create beautiful floral arrangements. The luncheon is always held at the Gulf Coast's iconic, Mary Mahoney's Old French House restaurant.

Caption: OPPOSITE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tye called upon Fresh Ink in Jackson to create one of a kind invitations for the event. The past queens share a group photo. Lori Pontius, 2016 queen (in green), is seated with 2015 queen and luncheon host, Karla Tye (in purple). The queen's lunch is a long-standing tradition for the krewe. Mary Mahoney's provides a selection of traditional coast dishes for the luncheon. The 2016 Captain, Alan Sala, makes his presentation to Pontius.

writer AMY REID FELDER photographer NEIL LADNER
MARY MAHONEY'S BREAD PUDDING WITH RUM SAUCE

BREAD PUDDING

10 ounces French bread
6 eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups seedless raisins
2 sticks butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine eggs, cinnamon, and
nutmeg. Mix well. Add sugar, milk, cream and vanilla to mixture,
mixing well; set aside. Cut bread into bite-size pieces and place
in baking dish. Add raisins and melted butter to bread. Pour egg
mixture over all. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown

RUM SAUCE

2 1/2 cups m ilk, scalded
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons flour
4 eggs (beaten well)
1 stick butter
dash of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla flavor
1 teaspoon rum flavoring
1 ounce run

In a saucepan, melt butter and add flour, mixing well. Add scalded
milk and sugar. Cook over low heat until thick. Beat in eggs and
remove from heat. Add nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and rum. Serve
over pudding.

Yield: 12 servings
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Title Annotation:FOOD & ENTERTAINING: Southern Soirees
Author:Felder, Amy Reid
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:1141
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